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Cities and their surrounding areas could be governed by elected mayors with wide-ranging powers over tax, policing and health according to plans outlined in a new report.
With David Cameron committed to referendums on elected city mayors in 12 English cities should the Conservatives win the election, NLGN argues that a high level suite of powers needs to be devolved in order to incentivise city-regional mayors (characterised in the paper as ‘platinum level’ powers) and similarly a set of further powers (‘gold level’) needs to be granted for all other elected mayors. Both reforms would see mayors receiving additional powers to the ones they currently hold, trailblazing the decentralisation to local government in general.
There are currently 13 elected mayors in England and some have been credited with developing new forms of civic leadership and tackling long-term problems. However, presently only the Mayor of London has wider strategic power over areas such as transport and policing and overall England lacks well-known and influential civic mayors such as Mayor Bloomberg in New York or Pasqual Maragall in Barcelona.
The report argues that strong local leadership and vision is needed to take bold decisions and citizens need to be better engaged in choices about what can be realistically delivered, particularly with constraints on public spending likely in the coming years. It suggests that elected mayors are well placed to execute this function, and their high visibility and public profile can help capture the attention of the media and citizens.
Publishing today’s proposals, co-authors Nirmalee Wanduragala and Nick Hope argue that further incentives are needed to encourage strong civic leadership and to allow mayors to reach their full potential. Among the recommendations are:
City mayors should be able to balance their budget over a four-year period, allowing them greater financial flexibility to raise and lower Council Tax. They should also be granted the power to introduce a supplementary business rate of up to + or – 4p, with any extra funds raised to be spent on economic development within the city as deemed best by the mayor.
Mayors representing a city-region should be given transport powers that mirror more closely those that the Mayor of London currently enjoys, in particular through chairing (or the nomination of chair) of the local transport body.
City-region mayors should also have the power to appoint a new post of City or Area Police Commissioner or have the right to appoint themselves to the role.
City-region mayors should have power to appointment the Chief Executive of the local Primary Care Trust and to nominate one person to sit as a non-executive member on the board of the PCT.
City and city-region mayors should be able to appoint the chief executive of their local authority.
City-region mayors should be automatically granted a seat in the second chamber of the Houses of Parliament, to counter current under-representation of regional perspectives.
However, NLGN also argues that candidates for mayoral contests should be chosen using a US-style Primaries system to encourage people from outside of politics to stand and create a “unique mandate”. Primaries could be based on an “open” system where anyone, regardless of party affiliation, could stand as a candidate, but with the final decision left to party members or supporters. In London a primary was held to find the Conservative candidate for the mayoral elections, where Boris Johnson was selected. In Bedford the Conservative Party also selected their Mayoral candidate through an open primary.
The authors justify the radical plan for Open Primaries by arguing that “more people from a wider range of backgrounds should have the opportunity to shape the rules and take part in decision-making at all levels in our country. If we are ever to see a renaissance of civic involvement, we need everyone to have the chance to identify with somebody in a position of power. We need to open up politics the party selection process for mayoral candidates should be extended beyond party members.”
The report authors also point towards mayors providing more visible leadership, citing polling evidence that, after just 12 to 18 months mayors being elected, on average 57% of people could identify their mayor, compared to only 25% who could identify their leader in councils without a mayor. They also argue that having an elected mayor was instrumental in London’s successful bid to secure the 2012 Olympic bid.
Report authors Wanduragala and Hope conclude:
“Mayors, with their local mandate, are well placed to be granted wide-ranging delegated powers to help transform the way communities and citizens are served. They provide clear lines of accountability, demarcated responsibility, and effective leadership so that it is clear to everyone “where the buck stops”. Ministers can be confident that they will not to be held responsible by the electorate or the media for the particular actions of an administration in a locality.”